Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 303

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Law enforcement says Anitere Flores’ civil citations proposal still ‘a non-starter’

There are a number of bills floating in the Florida Legislature this year that deal with criminal justice reform, but one that has law enforcement completely flummoxed is a bill that would remove their discretion to charge a minor regarding a variety of first-time offenses.

Miami Republican Senator Anitere Flores‘ bill (SB 196) requires a law enforcement officer to issue a civil citation or require the juvenile’s participation in a diversion program when that juvenile admits to committing certain first-time misdemeanor offenses.

Officials with the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association are strongly opposed to bill, however, because it mandates that officers will no longer have the discretion to choose between offering a juvenile a civil citation for the offense, or making an arrest.

Among the eleven listed first-time misdemeanors that law enforcement would have to give a civil citation to a juvenile offense include battery, disorderly conduct, affrays and riots, theft and resisting an officer without violence.

At the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice last week, Flores said that a misdemeanor battery charge currently can result simply by individuals accidentally touching each other.

That’s not what officers charge juveniles with out on the streets, insists Butch Arenel, the Coconut Creek Chief of Police and president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

We’re talking about a road rage incident where a juvenile gets out of a car, approaches another driver and punches him in the face,” says Arenal. “That is a misdemeanor battery, and to think we’re going to have an incident like that where’s it’s a violent crime against a victim, and we’re going to simply issue a noncriminal ticket, and let them walk away, sends a wrong message to our youth.”

Resisting an officer without violence is also problematic, Arenal says. He cites as an example a law enforcement officer encountering a juvenile after he or she commits an offense, and then watching that youth take off, with the officer finally bringing him down after a lengthy chase.

“We apprehend them, and we can’t arrest them?” he asks incredulously. “That’s commonly known as obstruction.”

“What we need to remember is that the offenses in Senate Bill 196 are all misdemeanors and that it must be the child’s first time committing one of the misdemeanors,” Flores tells FloridaPolitics, regarding the opposition from law enforcement.

“I am willing to amend the bill as it progresses, but again these are only first time offenses and misdemeanors committed by children,” Flores said, adding, “I believe law enforcement deserves the utmost respect and generally deference.”

Currently, there is a wide disparity between counties in terms of how much local law enforcement is offering diversion programs for wayward youth. Flores has mentioned the gap between juveniles who get detained in Hillsborough County under Sheriff David Gee vs. what would happen to them if they committed the same offense across the bay in Pinellas County, which has an established youth civil citation program. Last year, 94 percent of juvenile offenders were issued civil citations in Pinellas, whereas in Hillsborough County, that only happened 34 percent of the time.

“While civil citations have been in law for years, unfortunately not all law enforcement agencies have issued them uniformly, only half of first time juvenile misdemeanors actually receive a citation,” Flores says. “Thousands of first time misdemeanor offenders as children are going to DJJ, where the recidivism rates are much higher, and the effects last a lifetime.”

Arenal acknowledges that Flores’ “has a point” that there are regions of the state where civil citations are offered more much liberally than in others. The answer he says, is for police chiefs and sheriffs to continue to advocate for that policy change. “We have been advocating for it,” he insists.

Although his department is among top counties in the state in offering civil citations, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri testified against the bill earlier this month in his role with the Florida Sheriffs Association. His opposition in part led to St. Petersburg Senator Jeff Brandes to oppose Flores bill when it was debated in the Criminal Justice Committee in January.

At last week’s  Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens told an official with the Police Chiefs Association “if law enforcement in this state had been a little bit better in adopting these programs and utilizing the way that they should be used, then perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation of having to say we’re going to make you do it.”

That comment wasn’t appreciated by law enforcement officials.

“We are the ones who know who were dealing with and the crime we’re seeing and to create the perception that we’re heavy handed and that we’re not flexible in our approach to juveniles is just completely unfair,” Arenal says.

Meanwhile, while supporters of the legislation would undoubtedly like law enforcement’s buy-in, the fact is that neither of the two bills in the House, from Orange County Democrat Kamia Brown (HB 213) or Seminole Republican Larry Ahern (HB 205) would take away officers discretion on issuing out a civil citation for juveniles. Flores says that it’s still early in the process and says she’s making progress with House members.

“I have had many productive conversations with the House and I am confident we share common goals of not sentencing children who make a mistake to a lifetime of negative consequences,” she says.

 

 

 

Joe Gruters calls Republicans to ‘pack seats’ at Vern Buchanan’s Sarasota town-hall meeting Saturday

Sarasota-area Democrats have waited several weeks to engage GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan; they’ll finally get their chance at a town-hall meeting Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

But will there be a counter presence of Republicans packing the seats?

Anticipation around the meeting is so strong that Buchanan’s staff announced last week they would move the event from the New College Sudakoff Center to Van Wezel, which has a capacity of over 1,730 seats.

If it’s anything like most other town halls held around the nation in 2017, it could be dominated by rowdy Democrats demanding to know why Buchanan is ready to jettison the Affordable Care Act for the American Health Care Act, which received mixed reviews from many congressional Republicans as well as a dismal score Monday from the Congressional Budget Office.

“This is an important first step toward restoring choice and affordability to health care for all Americans,” Buchanan said upon the unveiling of the bill. “This bill replaces a failing government-run program that forces people to buy insurance with a system based on choice, free markets and competition.”

Although Buchanan has famously said he has conducted more than 70 such town halls since being elected in 2006, this will be his first one this year. During the congressional weeklong break last month, Buchanan was in the Middle East, prompting some Democrats to say he was blowing them off.

That’s hardly the case, but it could be a different element than what is the traditional mood at a Buchanan town hall.

In an effort to have adequate support, Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee Chair Joe Gruters sent a notice to his fellow Republicans, calling on them to attend Saturday.

Although the event doesn’t start until 11 a.m., Gruters’ email message asks Republicans to come early.

“Doors open at 9 and we need Republicans packing the first rows,” the state House District 73 representative said to his GOP brethren. “We are expecting a full house!!”

Bill permitting Florida PSC to allow natural gas investments passes Senate committee

A Florida Senate committee unanimously passed a proposal Tuesday giving electric utilities the opportunity to invest in natural-gas reserves and recoup money from customers.

The legislation would allow any Florida power company using natural gas for 65 percent or more of its electricity generation to explore out-of-state for natural gas using residential ratepayer’s money.

The bill from Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean bill (SB 1238) is a response to the Florida Supreme Court’s rejection last May to Florida Power & Light’s program of investing ratepayers money into a controversial Oklahoma natural-gas project.

In 2014, FPL received the go-ahead by the Florida Public Service Commission, which approved a request to invest in the drilling and production of natural gas in an area known as the Woodford Gas Reserves Project in Oklahoma.

But the Supreme Court ruled 6-1 last year that the PSC did not have the authority to grant that option. The Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities’ vote Tuesday essentially overrode that decision.

The Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities’ vote Tuesday essentially overrode that decision.

Bean told the committee that the PSC would have authority to allow energy companies to go forward if each investment expects to generate savings for the customer over the life of the investment. He added that each investment must have at least 50 percent of the wells classified as proven reserves by the Securities and Exchange Commission; and the total volume of gas approved would be limited to 7.5 percent in 2018, 10 percent in 2019, 12.5 percent in 2020 and 15 percent in 2021.

There were several members of the public who spoke out against the bill.

“If they think it’s a great idea, why would we have a speculative risk on backs of ratepayers as opposed to the shareholders?” asked Susan Glickman, the Florida Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “This is about socializing the risk and privatizing the profits.”

Attorney Jon Moyle, representing the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said that the effect of power companies mitigating their risks by hiding fuel costs has cost ratepayers big time over the past 15 years.

Moyle cited statistics that show consumers had lost more than $6.5 billion in hedging, and FPL lost more than $4 billion since 2002.

“If FPL wants to use shareholder money and form an unregulated company … we don’t have any objection,” Moyle said. “If they want to get into the oil and gas wildcatting business wherever, as long as their not doing it with ratepayers money, then that’s something that probably would not draw the opposition that it has.”

Several of the speakers also compared the proposal to the extremely controversial nuclear cost recovery plan in Florida, which allowed public utilities to collect money from shareholders for nuclear power plants that may ultimately never be built.

“Locking in ratepayer responsibility for a lengthy period of time, would be unreasonable in our opinion, considering the volatility of the prices for a pinnacle form of fuel, the development of alternative forms of energy,” said Jack McCray, advocacy manager for Florida AARP. “And also considering the development of ever-changing technological advancements which increase the efficiency of energy usage.”

Sam Forrest, vice president of FPL’s Energy Marketing & Trading division, came before the committee to refute several of the claims made by the bill’s critics, claiming “these are the same folks who have opposed us along the way as we have made long-term investments in affordable, clean energy infrastructure since 2001.”

He denied that there was any speculating going on with the bill, saying that FPL would start drilling in a well that was known for certain to have natural gas in it, and then move on to a well immediately next to it. “You’re drilling consistently in very proven technologies,” he maintained.

Regarding the billions lost in hedging since 2002, he said the PSC has always been “very supportive of hedging and continues to be supportive of hedging.”

Forrest also disputed the claims by opponents that no other company has ever done what FPL had been doing until stopped by the high court last spring, saying that the Florida Municipal Power Agency has invested in gas reserves, as have a “number” of others around the nation. He also stated that all the money that FPL spends on energy is to out-of-state sources.

“There’s no natural gas production; there’s no oil production; there’s no coal production that exists in the state of Florida.”

Forest also denied that this was another version of early cost recovery, saying customer would be paying for the energy “as it’s being used.”

The bill passed the committee unanimously, 8-0.

Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur is sponsoring a companion bill in the House (HB 1043).

American Action Network targets Carlos Curbelo in new ad

The American Action Network has begun a new $1.5 million issue advocacy campaign to persuade a group of GOP lawmakers to fight for passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

The ad highlights key elements of the plan and encourages lawmakers to deliver on their health care promise.

Over the next two weeks, the ads will air nationally on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and in 15 congressional districts nationwide, including in Miami, featuring CD 26 Representative Carlos Curbelo, who voted for the AHCA last week in a House Committee.

The ads are also airing in the congressional districts of House Speaker Paul Ryan, California legislators Darrell Issa, David Valadao, Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy. Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Nebraska’s Don Bacon, Iowa’s Rod Blum and David Young, Oregon’s Greg Walden, Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick, Texas’ Kevin Brady and Will Hurd and Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, many (if not all) are in 2018 competitive districts.

Tampa Bay area GOP Representatives weigh in on American Health Care Act

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted Monday that changes occurring with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of the American Health Care Act would result in 14 million people losing coverage in just the first year.

The CBO continued by saying that it expects premiums to come back down afterward, but the number of people without coverage would continue to rise ― eventually reaching 52 million in 2026, or 24 million more than what the CBO expects if the Affordable Care Act remains in place.

Gus Bilirakis press folks directed us to his speech on the House floor last week:

“In recent weeks, I held three town hall meetings and a roundtable discussion about health care in my district. Hundreds of constituents attended, and altogether I spent more than ten hours listening to folks. The best ideas come from the people, and I feel it is my duty as a representative to hear my constituents’ input.

“The American Health Care Act reflects what I’ve heard from patients, families, doctors, and many others over the past eight years. Our bill will lower costs, increase choices, and give patients greater control of their health care. It strengthens Medicaid, and helps middle-income Americans gain access to affordable coverage.

“It also protects those with pre-existing conditions, and allows young adults to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26.

“Most importantly, this legislation is moving through Congress in an open and transparent manner.

“I invite the people of Florida’s 12th District to read and share the American Health Care Act at ‘ReadTheBill.GOP.'”

Dennis Ross issued out this statement Tuesday:

“Obamacare is in a death spiral with skyrocketing premiums, insurers dropping out left and right, burdensome tax increases, and failed subsidies. It has left Americans with less choice and less control over their own health care. Premiums in Florida alone will increase 19 percent this year. This is absurd and unacceptable. We must provide relief for the millions of Americans who were kicked off their health care plans and are suffering from astronomical health care costs due to the failure of Obamacare.
“The American Health Care Act will not only put patients and doctors back in charge of their health care decisions, but it will also allow for a stable transition so no one has the rug pulled from under them. This legislation will provide affordable coverage and choice for all, eliminate crushing taxes, regulations and individual and employer mandate penalties, allow children up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ plans, and ensure individuals with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage.
“This is a beginning, not an end. Congress and the Trump Administration are open to suggestions and working with others, something President Obama and Democrats were unwilling to do when they rammed Obamacare through Congress. This legislation is only Phase One of three to further lower costs and increase choice for families. By repealing and replacing Obamacare, we are keeping our promise to the American people. We are putting patients first.”

Sarasota Rep. Vern Buchanan will be hosting a town hall meeting this Saturday, where undoubtedly the American Health Care Act will be the subject of intense discussion.

“This is an important first step toward restoring choice and affordability to health care for all Americans,” Buchanan said. “This bill replaces a failing government-run program that forces people to buy insurance with a system based on choice, free markets and competition.”

A spokesperson for Buchanan says that he believes that the legislation will protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, allow children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26 and eliminate lifetime caps on coverage.

And what about CD 11 Rep. Daniel Webster, who now represents parts of Hernando and Citrus counties? A spokesperson directed us to a newsletter Webster issued Monday.

“One thing is certain, the Affordable Care Act has been everything but affordable and is collapsing across the country, raising costs for patients and forcing insurers out of the marketplace, which leaves patients and families with nowhere to go.”

“This week, House leadership released their proposal for repealing and replacing Obamacare.”

This proposal, the “American Health Care Act,” is the first of three phases to provide 21st- century health care reform. The other stages include administrative/regulatory changes from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, as well as additional legislative reforms passed as separate bills, including selling insurance across state lines.

More information about the American Healthcare Act is available at www.readthebill.gop.

Additionally, Rep. Mark Sanford (SC) and Sen. Rand Paul (KY) have introduced their own proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare.  You can read more about their proposal here.

“While I am strongly committed to repealing the failed Affordable Care Act and adopting real health care reform,” Webster said. “I have concerns with both proposals. For one, I am very concerned about the impact proposals will have on the demand for Medicaid beds in Florida nursing homes. This is critical to the access some of our senior population has to our hospitals and nursing homes. I also believe the final plan must provide the care we need, at a price we can afford, from the doctor we choose.

“These bills will continue to be the subject of much discussion and debate. I anticipate changes will be made before a bill comes up for a final vote in the House. It is my desire that the final proposal will, restore Medicaid to the original intent of the program — providing health care services to low income children, their caretaker relatives, the blind, and individuals with disabilities. Additionally, the following protections should be included in any final proposal.

“Additionally, the following protections should be included in any final proposal:

— Protect patients with pre-existing conditions: Ensures you will never be denied health care coverage regardless of their health status.

— Protect coverage for young people: Allows dependents up to age 26 stay on their parents’ plan

— Prohibits insurers from turning away patients when you renew your plan simply because you may be sick.”

Bill regulating ride-sharing in Florida advances in Senate Committee

Legislation to provide statewide regulations for transportation network companies (TNC’s) advanced in its latest committee stop in the Florida Senate Tuesday.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes‘ bill (SB 340) received only two votes in opposition in clearing the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, though there were substantial concerns expressed about funding for paratransit that animated the debate.

Noting that there is a hole in disability transportation, Parkland Democrat Gary Farmer offered an amendment that would assess ride-sharing companies one-half of one percent of TNC gross revenues go to the state and then be redistributed to the counties that would pay for disability transportation.

Farmer said that in 14 states, ride-sharing companies had been assessed fees “for one thing or another,” and thus it wasn’t outside the mainstream to do so in Florida.

Miami Republican Rene Garcia called Farmer’s amendment “well-intentioned,” but said the real answer was to address the needs of the state’s Transportation Disadvantaged program.

Garcia said he intended to present a bill or add as an amendment during the session that would allow for operators in the program to cross county lines.

“Unfortunately right now we don’t have that system that’s fully integrated that crosses county lines and so forth,” Garcia said, adding that work has been going on behind the scenes to put that into legislation into place. He also said some local boards aren’t administrating federal and state paratransit funds in the most efficient way.

Farmer’s amendment ultimately went down to defeat.

Along with Farmer, the only other dissenting vote for the entire legislation in the committee came from Panama City Republican George Gainer, who said he didn’t understand why ride-sharing companies needed to be regulated by the state when that wasn’t the case with taxicabs.

“The goal here is to establish the statewide standard in both insurance and background checks, so that both business travelers, residents and tourists, understand that they have seamless transportation options as it relates to this technology,” Brandes told Gainer.

The Florida League of Cities also continues to oppose the legislation, specifying criticizing the background check policy that will require TNC drivers to get background checks only every three years, “which could result in drivers who committed criminal acts still driving for these companies within that window,” said Megan Sirjane-Samples.

The committee did approve two amendments that Brandes added to the legislation, including authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from ports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ride-sharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant.

The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The legislation requires Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger.

While driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

“The bipartisan vote in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee is another step toward ensuring Florida doesn’t fall behind the transportation innovation curve,” said Stephanie Smith, senior manager of public policy with Uber.

“We are grateful for Sen. Brandes’ advocacy on this important issue and applaud the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for approving this legislation,” said Lyft’s Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This is a significant step toward a uniform, statewide framework for modern options like Lyft and we look forward to continuing to advocate for expanded consumer choice that keeps public safety first.”

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Marco Rubio: ‘Snoop shouldn’t have done it’ on video featuring fake Trump assassination

Noted hip-hop aficionado Marco Rubio is weighing in on rapper Snoop Dogg’s controversial new music video “Lavender,” that features the rapper firing a toy gun at a clown dressed as Donald Trump.

“Snoop shouldn’t have done that,” the Florida senator told TMZ Monday. “You know we’ve had presidents assassinated before in this country, so anything like that is really something people should be really careful about.”

“I think people can disagree on policy, but we’ve got to be really careful about that kind of thing, because the wrong person sees that and gets the wrong idea, and you can have a real problem, so you know, I’m not sure what Snoop is thinking.

“He should think about that a little bit.”

The song is a remix of the electro-psych tune by BadBadNotGood and Kaytranada.

Snoop (whose real name is Calvin Broadus) elaborated on the video concept in an interview with Billboard

The rapper criticized police brutality and Trump’s policies, saying:

“The ban that this motherfucker tried to put up; him winning the presidency; police being able to kill motherfuckers and get away with it; people being in jail for weed for 20, 30 years and motherfuckers that’s not black on the streets making money off of it — but if you got color or ethnicity connected to your name, you’ve been wrongfully accused or locked up for it, and then you watching people not of color position themselves to get millions and billions off of it.”

 

Criminal justice reform task force and other reform bills advance in Florida Senate

A raft of bills that would reform Florida’s criminal justice system sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes were approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday.

That included legislation that would create a criminal justice task force (SB 458) consisting of 27 members that would take a “holistic” review of the state’s criminal justice system, including (but not limited to) sentencing practices, minimum mandatory requirements in statute, prison and jail facilities and criminal penalties in statute. The task force would deliver a report on the first day of the 2018 legislative session.

“The goal is to bring the parties together in the interim between session and try to find using data based solutions, a pathway forward for comprehensive reform,” said Brandes.

The 27 member force would come from those representing the Florida House, Senate, the Governor’s offices and various state agencies, as well as from a victim’s advocacy group, the formerly incarcerated, and the faith community.

In talking about the need for such reform, Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley invoked the memory of Darren Rainey, the mentally ill inmate who died at Dade Correctional Institution in 2012 after he was thrown into a steaming shower.

“I don’t know what it takes to wake everybody up to know that we’ve got a problem, but we have a problem, and to fix the problem, you’ve gotta recognize that there’s a problem,” Bradley told his colleagues, asking if conservative states like Texas can enact such criminal justice reform, Florida surely can as well.

Three other Brandes backed bills addressing criminal justice were also passed by the committee.

Including among them was SB 448,  which would give the discretion to law enforcement agencies to implement pre-arrest diversion programs for certain offenders.

A critic of the bill named Ralph Wilson  said that the language of that legislation was derived from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial organization that creates model conservative legislation that is adopted by state legislators around the country. Wilson claimed that when compared with  ALEC’s “model legislation” on pre-arrest diversion.  He claimed that three of the five sections of the  bill was more than 97% identical to the ALEC bill.

Brandes rejected the claim, as did Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, who said that his organization actually shopped it over to ALEC.

Ocala Senator Dennis Baxley said that he previously had opposed the bill, but was coming around on it, and said he was impressed that ALEC was supporting it as well.

The committee also passed  SB 450 involving public records. The bill would require that a civil citation, documentation of a rearrest diversion program and any other reports or documents held by a law enforcement agency are exempt from public records requirements.

And they passed SB 790 which is related to probation and community control.

 

 

Lawsuit against Rick Scott and clemency board seeks to restore former felons’ voting rights

A class-action lawsuit filed Monday aims to automatically restore former felons’ voting rights and eliminate Florida’s rights restoration process, considered one of the most onerous in the nation.

The Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven former felons. It targets all four members of the Cabinet, and six other state officials, including Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Department of Corrections head Julie Jones.

Florida is one of just a handful of states that does not automatically restore voting rights once a felon has paid his or her debts to society. There are 1.6 million Floridians currently disenfranchised — the highest state total in the nation — and over 10,000 are waiting for a hearing on their restoration applications.

There is currently an effort to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot 2018 by the group Floridians for a Fair Democracy that would automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons.

The lawsuit cites the lack of any rules governing the Executive Clemency Board’s decisions to grant or deny applications. Without any rules, the system and the applicants are prone to arbitrary treatment, violating the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, according to the lawsuit.

“Unlike the overwhelming majority of states, Florida simply has no law that tells ex-felons when their voting rights are restored. Instead, they must beg state officials to give them their rights back, and this setup violates our Constitution,” said Jon Sherman, Senior Counsel for the Fair Elections Legal Network. “The right to vote should be automatically restored to ex-felons at a specific point in time — the completion of a sentence — not whenever a politician decides you’ve earned it.”

Giving government officials unfettered discretion, according to the complaint, leads to unequal treatment of people in similar circumstances. The lawsuit quotes Gov. Rick Scott speaking of the process at last month’s Cabinet meeting, when he said, “Clemency is … is — there’s no standard.  We can do whatever we want.

The current voting rights restoration process requires former felons who have completed their full sentences to petition the Executive Clemency Board, which consists of the Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Commissioner of Agriculture. Once they have applied, they must wait an indeterminate amount of time to be placed on the Board’s quarterly meeting agenda. The suit says this can take as long as 10 years for some applicants or months for others. The lawsuit also challenges both the lack of any time limits for making decisions on restoration applications — which the plaintiffs contends is another violation of the 1st Amendment — and the 5- and 7-year post-sentence waiting periods Gov. Scott imposed.

“Our most precious right is the right to vote. Ex-felons should not be denied the opportunity to have their rights restored nor to participate in fair and free elections. Yet, the Florida Clemency Board’s obstruction of restoring voting rights runs counter to everything we as Americans stand for.  This important class action lawsuit will fight to restore these citizens’ right to vote,” stated Theodore Leopold, partner with Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

About 1.6 million Floridians are disenfranchised because they were convicted of a felony and have not had their voting rights restored. This includes men and women of all different political parties, races, ethnicities, ages, from cities and rural areas, as well as veterans, small business owners and others.

As of March 1, the backlog of applicants for voting rights restoration stood at 10,513, but the suit alleges that the Clemency Board only hears an average of 52 cases per quarter. “At this rate, if no new applications were submitted, it would take the Clemency Board almost 51 years to hear the entire backlog of applicants,” the plaintiffs write.

The suit also says that the number of applications granted has dropped significantly since Scott took office in 2011, with only 2,488 applications having been granted. Scott’s predecessor, Charlie Crist,  issued revised rules of executive clemency, resulting in 155,133 applications being granted.

Proposal to make Secretary of State an elected Cabinet position advances in Florida House

On Monday, a House committee advanced legislation that could result in a 2018 constitutional amendment asking Floridians to make Secretary of State an elected position.

Stuart Republican Gayle Harrell told members of the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee that the Secretary of State’s office is so important, that he or she needs to be accountable to all the citizens of the state.

Also, Harrell’s bill (HJR 111) would add the Secretary of State’s office to the Florida Cabinet, currently represented by the governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and chief financial officer.

Sandra Mortham, who served as Florida’s Secretary of State from 1994-1998, noted to the committee that in the fifteen years since the position has been a handpicked choice of the governor, there had been 10 different people holding that office.

“That does not bode well,” she said.

When asked if she felt equally as strong that the position should be added to the Cabinet, Mortham said she actually wouldn’t have a problem if it were expanded to seven members, believing that the education and insurance commissioners should also be chosen by the voters (as they used to be).

For the resolution to get on the 2018 ballot, it must get 60 percent support in both the House and the Senate (where Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean is sponsoring the bill).

If the voters approve it in 2018, the new governor would still have the power to select his or her own Secretary of State. The first time the public could vote on the position would be in 2022.

 

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